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Tokarev Type 54: ChiCom Bring-Back Tok [Old School]

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet Union underwent extensive industrial and military expansion and modernization. Although no expert in the fields in question, Stalin understood that one of Russia’s most persistent problems, technological and industrial inferiority, played strongly against it during World War I, and if the burgeoning Soviet Union were going to survive, it would have to catch up. 

Some of the more secret projects undertaken in the interwar period such as aircraft and tank design and production, often in quiet cooperation with other countries, is still not widely studied or understood. However, the series of firearms developed shortly before WWII became almost iconic by default through their issue and performance under abysmal conditions on the Eastern Front during WWII. 

If this were a Western design, you’d expect to find a safety right about here. If however, your sidearm’s main role was to execute political prisoners, such decadence could be dispensed with.

This included the ubiquitous TT33, commonly referred to as the Tokarev, the simplified Browning knock-off chambered in 7.62×25 that was also the standard Soviet submachine gun round during the war. 

Like virtually all other Soviet weapons of the era, the TT33 was copied by other countries from China to Poland, to Hungary and on, and these were widely produced and issued during the Cold War. This Chinese copy of the TT33 is usually known as the Type 54 or M20. 

The Type 54 served widely during the Cold War. 

Chinese small arms production was and is virtually as prolific as Soviet, and small arms represented both an excellent way to provide foreign aid for communist-friendly countries and a good way to make money as well. 

Along with the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, the Vietnam War was a hot spot militarily and politically, and many Soviet and Chinese weapons were funneled to their allies in these regions to help win the proxy wars of postwar world. This particular pistol was sent to Vietnam, then captured, papered, and brought home by a U.S. Marine. Bring-backs from Vietnam are far rarer than those from WWII, and captured bring-back pistols are rarer still. 

The Tokarev and its derivatives are simple, robust, and effective pistols. 

They’re short recoil simplified Browning designs that often look a little crude compared to their Western counterparts. Internally and externally, the pistols are fitted and finished to be easily maintained and remain reliable in adverse conditions. 

The reduction and simplification of parts translated to ease of maintenance, and usually improved reliability. Like most standard Soviet small arms of the era, the Tokarevs were .30-caliber designs. The 7.62×25 cartridge was a rather high velocity round for a pistol cartridge, often surpassing 1,200-fps muzzle velocity. 

Echoes of Browning’s designs can been seen everywhere on the Type 54 — note mag catch, trigger, and slide stop.

The single-stack, eight-round magazine also added to its reliability, with simple construction, generally strong magazine springs, and very stout bodies. Like the PPSh41 and its derivative copies, the Tokarev as issued is often not considered an attractive firearm, but its battlefield record indicates: “It does what is says on the tin.”

American troops likely encountered a few of these in German hands during WWII, but it was Korea before they encountered them in any numbers, and the subsequent conflict in Vietnam. 

Like most sidearms, these pistols were issued to officers, vehicle crewmen, and others who needed a small, easily portable firearm for self-defense. The variety of small arms encountered by American troops in Vietnam, especially in the hands of the Viet Cong or VC, was truly remarkable, with WWI- and II-era bolt action rifles often being carried simultaneously alongside new production AK-47s and their variants. 

Unlike, the VC, the North Vietnamese Army was more regularly supplied and organized and the Type 54 or M20 was probably more normally encountered in the hands of regulars than their VC allies, who were known to make jungle workshop copies of not only the Tokarev, but even the M1911A1. 

Like most military pistols of the day, the Type 54 has fairly standard features. The eight-round magazine offers no distinct advantage over most of its contemporaries. 

The 7.62×25 cartridge itself is rather zippy, but the limits of the design, and more especially the sights meant that the pistol’s effective range was that of just about every other military design at 25 yards or so, but perhaps a little further in the hands of somebody especially skilled with it. The simple black plastic grip panels offered little in the way of positive retention, but the lanyard loop for the “dummy cord” theoretically eased the problem. 

One distinct feature of this pistol and most of the military copies is the lack of a manual safety. Unlike the M1911A1, which when properly holstered offered a minimum of three built-in safety mechanisms, the Type 54, like its TT33 cousin, rolled hot (insert Black Hawk Down joke here) with nothing more than half-cock or an empty chamber to keep its user from discharging the weapon. 

Recoil is noticeable in the Type 54 and can sometimes be referred to as pronounced with surplus ammunition and herein is a caution; although untold amounts of 7.62×25 has been imported since the 1950s, some of it was specifically loaded for submachine guns such as the PPSh series and it may be quite dangerous to shoot in the Type 54 or any 7.62×25 pistol. 

Take the time to examine the markings on the headstamp, the primer and bullet seals, and the carton, and learn their meanings before you go stuffing the ammo in a pistol — lest you become a good source of income for your local trauma surgeon (or undertaker) and make fodder for social media. 

Untold myriads of holsters and accoutrements were issued for these pistols and their variants since inception, due to its widespread use and varying wartime and peacetime requirements of various militaries and interested commercial entities. 

The Chinese produced holster pictured here carries an extra magazine and a cleaning rod and can be converted into a shoulder holster with the right straps. This holster and magazine pouch are leather, but others can be found made of vinyl or some other sort of “pleather,” webbing, or canvas. Dress or police variants can also be had, usually at something of discount.

Most of these pistols and their various commercial copies encountered since the late 1960s were required to have a manual safety installed before they were considered importable. If you find a Type 54 or any variant of Tokarev on the market without a manual safety it probably means it was imported before the late ’60s or, if you’re lucky, a bring-back. 

Considering the number of models and types available, these pistols can be difficult to price. Chinese, Yugoslavian, and even Polish commercial copies can still be had for bargain prices. A bring-back or a slider Type 54 or M20 without documentation can run easily between $700 and $1,000. 

Wartime Soviet TT33s without import marks or safeties can easily achieve $1,100 to $1,300, even in rough shape. A pistol with this sort of history and documentation is a true rarity and can easily achieve thousands at auction. 


Tokarev Type 54

  • OAL: 7.6 inches
  • BBL: 4.6 inches
  • Weight: 30 ounces
  • Effective Range: 25 yards
  • Caliber: 7.62×25
  • Capacity: 8+1

Thanks to Jason Cobb for loaning us this excellent piece for review.

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